Thomas Wason House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 270 Liberty Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2019:

This brick Italianate-style house was built sometime around the early 1850s, and it was the home of Thomas Wason, the founder of the Wason Manufacturing Company. At the time, this area of Springfield to the east of Chestnut Street and north of the railroad tracks was sparsely developed, consisting primarily of upscale homes that were modeled on rural Italian villas. A number of these houses are visible in the first photo of an earlier post, which shows the view around 1882, before the area was transformed into the working-class Liberty Heights neighborhood at the turn of the 20th century.

Thomas Wason was born in New Hampshire in 1811, and he grew up in a family with 15 children. His father was a carpenter, so Thomas worked in the shop when he was young, and gained valuable skills that he would put to use after he and his younger brother Charles moved to Springfield in the 1830s. At the time, Springfield was a small but rapidly-growing manufacturing center, and it was also an important transportation hub that would soon become the crossroads of several important railroads.

The Wason brothers took advantage of this new method of transportation, and they started out by preparing timbers for railroad bridges and repairing railroad cars before starting a railroad car manufacturing business in 1845. The company started small, with the Wasons producing cars in a shed that was not even large enough for a single car. However, the rapid growth of the nation’s railroad system resulted in high demand for railroad cars, so the Wasons soon moved to a larger facility. Then, in 1848, they moved again, to the factory of the former Springfield Car and Engine Company, which was located in the block between Lyman and Taylor Streets in downtown Springfield.

Charles Wason ultimately left Springfield in 1851 and moved to Cleveland, where he established his own railroad car company. Thomas purchased his brother’s interest in their partnership here in Springfield, and he carried on the business for many years, turning it into one of the nation’s leading railroad car manufacturers. During that time, the Wason Manufacturing Company produced cars for most major railroads, and also had several overseas contracts, including a 161-car order that was sent to Egypt in 1860. The company also produced the nation’s first sleeping car in 1857, predating the more famous Pullman sleeping cars by several years.

The Wason company was one of the most important industries in Springfield during the second half of the 19th century, and the 1884 book King’s Handbook of Springfield declared that “no manufactory in Springfield has been more world-famed; and none has, during the past twenty years, handled so much money.” Thomas Wason himself also handled plenty of money, and by the mid-1860s he ranked among the city’s top earners, with an 1864 income of $17,944, equivalent to over $300,000 today.

Thomas Wason was around 40 years old when moved into this house in the early 1850s. He and his wife Sarah had two children, Jane and George, who would have been adolescents at the time. Like most affluent families of the period, they also employed servants who lived here in the house; the 1860 census lists 19-year-old servant Edwin Mehan, who was an Irish immigrant. A decade later, the family employed 18-year-old Annie Harris and 16-year-old Ellen Davis. Both were originally from Virginia, and Harris was listed as mulatto and Davis as black, so it is possible that the two may have previously been enslaved in Virginia.

In addition to manufacturing railroad cars, Thomas Wason’s business interests included being involved with several local banks. He was vice president of the Hampden Savings Bank, and he was also one of the directors of the First National Bank of Springfield. Wason was also active in local politics, serving at various times on the city council, the board of aldermen, and in the state legislature.

Thomas Wason died in 1870 at the age of 58, and he left behind an estate that was valued at nearly $450,000, or more than $9 million today. By far his largest asset was his ownership interest in Wason Manufacturing, which amounted to 760 shares worth a total of $200,000. He also held more than $60,000 in shares of companies like the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company, the First National Bank, the Boston and Albany Railroad, and the Michigan Central Railroad. Most of his remaining personal estate was in the form of bonds and promissory notes, which were valued at more than $112,000. Wason also owned $58,500 in real estate, including his house here on Liberty Street, which was assessed at $20,000.

Sarah Wason continued to live here in this house for at least five years after her husband’s death, but she had evidently moved out by 1876. The 1880 census shows her living next door at 284 Liberty Street, at the home of her daughter Jane and son-in-law Henry S. Hyde. However, her old house here at 270 Liberty Street would remain in the family for many years, although it appears to have been used primarily as a rental property. Starting around 1877, it was the home of Aaron Wight, a sawyer who sold wood to railroads. He was also the brother of Emerson Wight, the mayor of Springfield from 1875 to 1878. Aaron lived here in this house for the rest of his life, until his death in 1885 from typhoid malaria at the age of 63.

By the late 19th century, this part of Springfield had begun to change. As the city grew, the old estates here were steadily subdivided into new residential streets, and the neighborhood became predominantly working class, with a number of immigrants and second-generation Americans. The area also became more industrialized during this period, thanks to its proximity to the railroad tracks. The 1899 city atlas shows a rail yard directly across the street from the house, and nearby industries included a stone yard, a coal yard, and a boiler and iron works.

The house was still used as a residence in 1900, although it was apparently divided into multiple units. One of the residents in that year’s census was George K. Geiger, superintendent at the Springfield Steam Power Company. He was an immigrant from Germany, and he lived here with his wife Rosa and their two sons, George and Arthur. The other family living here at the time was Hector and Nell Davis, who lived here with their children Mabel, Fred, and Eugene. Hector was a conductor for the Boston and Maine Railroad, and Mabel and Fred both worked as clerks.

This property underwent a dramatic transformation around 1909, when the Central Storage Warehouse purchased it and built a brick warehouse behind and to the right of the old house. The building evidently functioned much in the same way as modern storage units, with the company advertising, “Storage rooms to let. For furniture and other goods in separate locked compartments.” The warehouse was subsequently expanded in the early 1910s, with a new wing that extended all the way to Liberty Street, as shown on the right side of both photos here.

George Geiger was involved with the company in its early years, working as mechanical engineer and superintendent. By the 1910 census, both he and the Davis family were still living here in the house, although the Davises moved out soon after, and the Geigers left in 1912, when George resigned from his position with the company. After the Geigers, the last long-term resident of this house appears to have been Linda Daniels, who was here from around 1912 until her death in 1921. During the 1920 census she was 60 years old, widowed, and lived in the house with three of her children.

By the mid-1920s, the property seems to have been exclusively commercial in use. During this period, the company frequently listed advertisements in local newspapers, which reflected an expansion of its services beyond just storage. One 1925 ad offered “Local and long distance moving, packing, crating, storage of household furniture, pianos, office effects, merchandise.” Another ad from the same year assured potential customers, “Don’t worry on moving day. Call R. 98 and your moving problems will be solved to your complete satisfaction; storage for household, personal and office effects in strictly fireproof building; skilled workmen, competent to pack and crate any article safely.” In addition to these ads, the company also frequently posted classified ads for auctions and other sales of furniture, antiques, and similar items.

Judging by the few advertisements that appeared in the newspaper for Central Storage Warehouse in the 1930s, the business was probably hurt by the Great Depression. The first photo was taken during this time, probably around 1938 or 1939, and the company’s only appearance in the newspapers in those years seems to have been a December 1939 classified ad listing female canaries for sale, which were “guaranteed singers.”

The company remained here as late as 1940, but its business license was revoked in the fall of that year, and in February 1941 the property was sold at a foreclosure sale to the moving and storage company Lindell & Benson. Within a few years Lindell & Benson became Anderson & Benson, and this moving company would go on to operate here for many years before it was acquired by Sitterly Movers in 1975.

Today, the house has come a long way since being the home of one of Springfield’s most prosperous 19th century industrialists, and it has seen some exterior changes since the first photo was taken, including the loss of the porches on the left and right sides of the house. It is now almost entirely surrounded by larger industrial and commercial buildings, and the vacant lot on the left side of the first photo is now a building that partially blocks the view of the house from this angle.

Otherwise, though, remarkably little has changed in this scene over the past 80 years. Despite the exterior alterations, the house is still standing as one of the few survivors of the once-numerous Italian villas in this area. The early 20th century warehouse next to it is also still standing, with the same “Furniture Storage” advertisement still visible at the top, although it is more faded than in the 1930s. This property is still owned by Sitterly Movers, which continues to use this location as its Springfield branch, and in 2016 both buildings were designated as a local historic district.

Washington Avenue Armory, Albany, New York

The Washington Avenue Armory, at the corner of Washington Avenue and Lark Street in Albany, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This building was completed in 1890 as the armory for the Tenth Battalion of the state militia. It originally consisted of an administrative area here in the front section of the building, with meeting rooms for the various companies within the battalion, and a large drill hall directly behind it. The armory was located in the midst of an urban environment, surrounded by rowhouses and commercial buildings and only a few blocks west of the capitol, and it served as both a place for military training and as a social club for the unit’s members.

The entire building was constructed of brick, with brownstone trim from East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. It was designed by prominent architect Isaac G. Perry, and it features a Romanesque design that gives the armory the appearance of a medieval castle. This style of architecture was common for public buildings of the late 19th century, and particularly for state armories in New York and elsewhere. For these armories, the architecture was not merely decorative; the building’s massive, imposing appearance conveyed a sense of governmental authority and strength, and it could be used as a fortification in the event of civil unrest.

During the late 19th century, concerns about civil unrest were largely based on a number of violent labor disputes that occurred around the country starting in the 1870s and 1880s. This would continue for the next few decades, including at least one deadly strike that occurred here in Albany in 1901. That year, the city’s trolley motormen went on strike, and the United Traction Company replaced them with non-union operators. In response, the strikers and their supporters vandalized a trolley, cut the overhead trolley wires, and sent at least one of the replacement motormen to the hospital.

The Tenth Battalion was assembled here at the armory before dispersing by company to protect the company’s powerhouse and two trolley barns during the night of May 15. The next morning, they were supplemented by the arrival of the 23rd Regiment from Brooklyn. This unit had prior experience in dealing with strikes, and they also had the advantage of not having any local connections to the strikers. However, perhaps because of that, these outside soldiers caused further violence when several opened fire on a crowd, killing two bystanders who were not involved in the strike.

In addition to its military use, though, the armory was also used for a variety of civilian purposes, including as a venue for sporting events, dances, concerts, lectures, and expositions. One early event was a wrestling match featuring the reigning world heavyweight champion, Joe Stecher, who easily defeated Mort Henderson, the “Masked Marvel.” Later in 1920, Albany residents could pay 50 to 75 cents to “watch” the World Series here, which was reproduced on a board based on live play-by-play telegraph reports.

Over the years, perhaps the armory’s best-known use has been as a basketball arena. It was the home court of the city’s first professional basketball team, the Albany Senators, which began playing here in the 1919-1920 season as part of the New York State League. Basketball was still a relatively new sport at the time, and there were no nationwide professional leagues, but the New York State League was one of many regional leagues, with teams such as the Schenectady Dorpians, the Utica Utes, and the Gloversville Glovemakers.

The Senators played particularly well in their first year, and they finished the season as co-champions along with the Troy Knights of Columbus. During that year, the team’s starting lineup included Marty Friedman and Barney Sedran, both of whom were later elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Both were short by modern basketball standards, and Sedran is, at 5’4”, the shortest player in the Hall of Fame. Another notable teammate of theirs here in Albany was Harry Riconda, who was the Senators’ leading scorer for the 1919-1920 season. He was also a professional baseball player, and he played parts of six seasons as a Major League Baseball third baseman between 1923 and 1930.

More recently, the armory has been used by Albany Patroons, a minor league basketball team that began playing here in 1982. The team moved into the new Knickerbocker Arena—now the Times Union Center—in 1990, and three years later they moved to Hartford. However, a new Patroons team was formed in 2005, and returned to the armory for its home games. This team folded after the 2009 season, but it was replaced by a third iteration of the Patroons in 2018. The new team continues to use the armory, more than a century after the original Albany Senators played here.

Throughout this time, the armory remained in use by the National Guard until 1989. Since then, in addition to basketball games, it also hosts a number of other events, particularly concerts, and it has a seating capacity that ranges from 3,600 for basketball games to 4,300 for concerts. On the exterior, very little has changed in the building’s appearance since the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century. It stands as an important landmark along Washington Avenue, and in 1995 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Union Station, Albany, New York (3)

The main entrance to Union Station on Broadway in Albany, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This view of Union Station is similar to the one in the previous post, but provides more of a close-up view of the central part of the building, with the main entrance in the foreground. As explained in that post and an earlier one, the station opened in 1900, and it served passengers of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, the Delaware and Hudson Railway, the West Shore Railroad, and the Boston and Albany Railroad. The latter two railroads were owned by the New York Central, so overall the railroad was responsible for two-thirds of the daily trains here. This is emphasized by the fact that the New York Central’s name is engraved here on the facade in the first photo, directly above the central arch.

The station was designed by the Boston-based architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, with a Beaux-Arts style that was popular for public buildings of the era. The three arches here at the main entrance are the most distinctive architectural elements of the building, and in some ways they foreshadow the similar arches used more than a decade later when the New York Central built Grand Central Terminal more than a decade later.

Above the arches are a number of carvings, including a clock in the center atop the building, which is incorporated into the New York state seal. To the left of the clock is a figure representing Liberty, and to the left is Justice. An eagle is perched atop a globe above the clock, and underneath the clock is the inscription “Excelsior,” the state motto of New York. Other prominent carvings include large globes atop the corners, each of which is supported by four lions.

The first photo was taken soon after the station opened, and it shows an interesting mix of people outside the station. There are no cars visible on the street, but there are two horse-drawn vehicles, with an expensive-looking coach in the foreground on the right, and a more modest carriage further in the distance on the left side of the scene. Several people appear to have been watching the photographer, including a man with a top hat just beyond the coach, a man beneath the right arch with a briefcase and bowler hat, and three young newsboys who are standing in the street. Others seem indifferent to the camera, including at least three women walking along the sidewalk in front of the station, and another man in a bowler hat who is smoking a pipe and casually leaning against a column.

Union Station continued to be used by the railroads well into the mid-20th century, but by the 1950s ridership was in a steady decline, here in Albany and around the country. The station ultimately closed in 1968, ending passenger rail service into downtown Albany. To replace it, the railroad built a new, much smaller station across the river in Rensselaer.

The old station here in Albany was in limbo throughout the 1970s, and it was the subject of several different proposals, including demolition. However, it was ultimately restored as an office building in the late 1980s by Norstar Bancorp, whose name still appears on the facade in the spot where the New York Central’s name was once located. After a series of bank mergers, the building eventually became offices for Bank of America until 2009, and it is now occupied by several different tenants. Despite these changes in use, though, the exterior remains well-preserved, and the only significant difference here in this scene is the loss of the iron canopy above the entrance.

Union Station, Albany, New York (2)

Union Station in Albany, seen from the southwest corner at Broadway and Steuben Streets, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in more detail in a previous post, Albany’s Union Station opened in 1900 here on Broadway, in the northern part of downtown Albany. It was primarily used by the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, along with two of its subsidiaries: the West Shore Railroad and the Boston and Albany Railroad. Together, these three railroads comprised more than two-thirds of the rail traffic here when the station opened, with 42 New York Central, 13 West Shore, and 10 Boston and Albany trains departing daily. The remaining traffic was from the Delaware and Hudson Railway, which was headquartered in Albany and had 31 daily departures here.

The first photo was taken soon after the station was completed, showing its ornate granite Beaux-Arts exterior. It was designed by the Boston-based architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, which was responsible for many of the stations along the route of the Boston and Albany. During the heyday of passenger rail travel, the railroad stations of large cities often featured grand architecture. Such stations would provide a good first impression to visitors of a particular city, along with demonstrating the importance and prosperity of the city and its railroad lines. This would have been especially important here in Albany, given its role as the capital city of what was, at the time, the largest state in the country.

Here on the west side of the station, where most passengers would have entered and exited the building, the exterior features three arches, giving it an appearance similar Grand Central Terminal, which was built more than a decade later. Above these arches are a number of elaborate carvings. Of these, the most prominent is the state seal of New York, which was carved over the course of three months by about 15 workers. It stands above the middle arch, and it consists of a clock that is flanked on either side by allegorical representations of Liberty and Justice. Beneath the clock is the state motto, Excelsior, and above it is an eagle perched on a globe. To the left and right of the seal, atop the corners of the central part of the station, are stone globes, each supported by four lions. Although not visible here, two identical globes are located on the other side of the building.

This station was a busy place throughout the first half of the 20th century, with rail travel peaking during World War II when up to 121 daily trains departed from here. However, railroads around the country saw a steep decline in ridership soon after the war, when highways and airlines became the preferred ways to travel by the 1950s. Even the New York Central, once one of the most lucrative companies in the country, was facing possible bankruptcy. This financial situation was not helped by the fact that it had to maintain large, aging stations such as this one in Albany, despite very limited numbers of passengers.

In 1968, the New York Central merged with its former rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad, creating the Penn Central Railroad. Around the same time, the railroad began constructing a new, much smaller station across the Hudson River in Rensselaer, and the old station here in Albany closed on December 29, 1968. The tracks to the station were then removed and, as a sign of the changing ways that Americans traveled, Interstate 787 was built through the former rail yard behind the station.

The station itself was the subject of different redevelopment proposals, some of which would have involved demolishing the old building. Instead, it was ultimately preserved and converted into offices in the 1980s. For many years it was occupied by banks, beginning with Norstar Bancorp. The company’s name is still carved in the facade above the central arch, but the bank went through a series of mergers in the 1990s and early 2000s, eventually becoming part of Bank of America. The former station was occupied by Bank of America until 2009, and the building is now used as offices for a variety of other companies.

Old Post Office, Albany, New York

Looking north on Broadway from the corner of State Street in Albany, with the post office building in the foreground on the right, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Albany’s old post office building, which is shown here in the foreground of both photos, stands at the northeast corner of Broadway and State Street, only a few hundred yards west of the Hudson River. The building opened in 1883, and it housed the post office along with several other federal offices. It has changed use since then, but it survives as an important architectural landmark here in downtown Albany.

Prior to the construction of this building, there was no federal building in Albany, so the post office and other federal agencies operated out of rented spaces. Congress finally authorized the construction of a federal building in 1872, but work on the building did not actually begin for another seven years because of funding delays. The design also changed during this time. The original plans called for a High Victorian Gothic design, but James G. Hill, the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, subsequently redesigned it to feature Renaissance Revival architecture.

The building’s cornerstone was laid in 1879, and it was ready for occupancy by December 1883, when the internal revenue office moved in. The post office opened here on the ground floor of the building in January 1884, and the other federal agencies moved in later in the year. These included the United States Customs Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, and the United States Signal Service. The latter agency, whose duties involved weather observations and forecasts, occupied the third floor and the large tower at the corner of the building. In addition, the building featured a courtroom that was used by both the United States Circuit Court and the District Court.

The first photo was taken just after the turn of the century, about 20 years after the building was completed. There are no automobiles in this photo, although within just a few years they would become ubiquitous here on the streets. In the meantime, though, all of the vehicles in this scene are horse-drawn wagons, with the exception of the electric trolley in the lower left corner. There are a number of pedestrians on the wide sidewalk in front of the post office, including a man using crutches, and above them the street is crisscrossed by a web of electrical, telephone, and trolley wires.

This building continued to serve its original purpose until 1934, when a new federal courthouse, post office, and custom house opened immediately to the north of here on Broadway. Visible on the left side of the present-day photo, this newer building features an Art Deco exterior that was designed by the local firm of Gander, Gander & Gander. The post office moved out of that building in 1995, but it continues to be used as a federal district courthouse for the Northern District of New York, in addition to housing offices for federal law enforcement agencies.

As for the older post office here in the foreground, it remained in use as a federal office building until 1972. Then, in 1977 it was sold to the State University of New York, which had recently acquired the adjacent Delaware & Hudson Railroad Company Building. The two buildings are now connected, and they now form the SUNY Plaza, which serves as the headquarters of the SUNY system. Both buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and then in 2020 the newer federal courthouse—now named the James T. Foley Courthouse—was also added to the National Register. In addition, all three buildings are contributing properties in the extensive Downtown Albany Historic District, which was established in 1980.

Ten Eyck Hotel, Albany, New York

The Ten Eyck Hotel, seen from the corner of State and Chapel Streets in Albany, around 1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The Ten Eyck Hotel was one of Albany’s leading hotels of the early 20th century. It was built in two different stages, but the oldest section of the building, which is shown here in the first photo, was completed in 1899 at the northeast corner of State and Chapel Streets. It was named for James Ten Eyck, a local businessman whose family traced back to the early years of the Dutch settlement in Albany. He was part of the ownership group that built the hotel, and he was also its first official guest, signing his name in the register as part of the hotel’s opening on May 8, 1899.

The Ten Eyck was built in order to meet the demand for a new hotel in Albany. The city’s famous Delavan House had burned in 1894, and 16 people died in the fire. Hiram J. and Frederick W. Rockwell, the father-and-son partnership that ran the Kenmore Hotel, recognized the need for a new hotel, and they helped to form the Albany Hotel Corporation, which was established in 1897 with James Ten Eyck as one of its directors. Work on the new building began in 1898, and upon completion the Rockwells signed a long term lease to operate the hotel.

At nine stories in height, the Ten Eyck towered above its neighbors here on the north side of State Street, as shown in the 1904 photo in a previous post. The eastern side of the hotel, which is visible in that photo, was unadorned brick, but it did feature a large painted advertisement that declared the Ten Eyck to be “positively fire proof.” This fact was touted in contemporary print advertisements as well, likely in order to assure customers that it would not suffer the same fate as the Delavan, whose fire was still in recent memory.

The first photo here was taken only about two years after the Ten Eyck opened. At the time, the hotel was flanked by two older, smaller commercial blocks. On the left side of the photo is the ornate Albany Savings Bank building, which was completed in 1875. However, by the time the photo was taken, the bank had moved to a new facility on North Pearl Street, and this building here on State Street was repurposed as county offices. Directly adjacent to the hotel, on the right side of the photo, is the Tweddle Building. It was built in the mid-1880s, replacing the earlier Tweddle Hall that had burned in 1883, and it featured a mix of commercial offices and retail space.

The Ten Eyck proved to be popular, and in the mid-1910s the owners embarked on a massive expansion project. They purchased the Tweddle Building, demolished it, and constructed a new 17-story hotel building, which opened in 1917. The older nine-story section became the Ten Eyck Hotel Annex, and together these two buildings were used by the hotel for many years.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Ten Eyck remained one of the city’s most popular hotels. It changed ownership several times, eventually becoming a Sheraton, but by the 1960s it had begun to decline. This was the case in cities across the northeast, where once-fashionable downtown hotels were losing business to newer suburban hotels and motels. A major part of this was because of companies moving away from downtown locations, and also because of changes in transportation patterns. With most people now traveling by car instead of by train, it was much easier to stay at a modern hotel right off the highway rather than navigating downtown traffic to reach places like the aging Ten Eyck.

As a result, the Ten Eyck closed in 1968, and both buildings were demolished several years later. The old Albany Savings Bank on the left side of the photo appears to have been demolished around the same time, and the entire two-block section between North Pearl and Lodge Streets was redeveloped. Now completely unrecognizable from the first photo, this scene features several modern buildings, including an office building on the right and a Hilton hotel on the left.